Two years ago a group of ST enthusiasts started talking about making a group trip to Japan. First as a joke and then more and more seriously. After a few months we finally managed to find enough time and money to make it. All I can say is that I feel lucky I was part of it and now it’s the time to share the details of the trip with the community the best we can.
The ST apartment, as we called it, hosted 7 of us. Damdai, eltrouble, Millertime, Isimorn, Hanasu and me (yogaboy).
Our stay lasted for 2 weeks. During half of those days our house was packed with the 7 of us in it. I am going to give you an insight of the days before the full house. In other parts of the report I will talk about the core of the trip with interviews, sightseeing stories and details about Japanese players and the X-Mania tournament.
Our main excuse to have the ST trip was to go to the biggest tournament of the year, X-Mania 3on3. This way we created what we called the X-Mania 2015 expedition. We ended up being more than 16 international players, probably the time with most foreigners in the history of the tournament: 7 people from the ST House, 7 or 8 foreigners who already live in Tokyo (French and American people mostly), 3 Italians who were also visiting and 1 Spaniard (me).
The good thing is that the X-Mania tournament was planned for the end of our trip and all the previous days of the tournament at Hey Akihabara and Gamespot Versus had more people than usual since many Japanese were preparing for the tournament. For instance, Gamespot Versus weekly events have an all time record of around 70 players going for the team battle on Tuesdays. The Tuesday before X-Mania we were a little bit more than 60 players.
Hey Akihabara was also more packed than usual, it was our reference meeting point and second home for every single day. From there we could go to have lunch, hang out or go for sightseeing but Hey was always the reference spot. On our first full day in Japan we went a little bit crazy, we stayed at Hey from their opening time, 10.30am to closing time at midnight only taking some breaks to eat.
Taira and Shiki are probably the only grandmasters from Tokyo that we didn’t meet since they are inactive but we met all the rest. Hakase Dhalsim was there every day. Muteki Guile was there also a lot and he was always getting the longest victory runs, around 30 or so. That’s not an easy task since grandmasters beat each other all the time and the level of average players is also very high. For us, getting more than 5 victories in a row was having a great day.
Isimorn was using the surprise factor to beat grandmasters at the beginning although he had a much tougher time after those first matches. In my case, I had the lowest level in the group (still need more hours http://www.fightcade.com/id/yogaboy) so I barely got any wins in my first days.
Bob Huynh (aka Mr Bob) was also at Hey many times during the week. He is probably the non-japanese who participated in most X-Manias including the very first one in the year 2000.
In the land of new characters it was fun to see an old Ken (MrBob) versus an old Ryu (Damdai) many times, always close to the last hit in the last round. There’s no recorded video of that match but here there is one of Zagi vs Damdai (sorry for the vertical video)
Another match that happened quite a few times was between the two best Guiles of the moment, Kotaka Shoten vs Muteki. Kotaka Shoten is a funny guy. He looks super young, although he is around 30, and he is always in a good mood putting up a show. (again, sorry for the vertical video)
We had many sightseeings with the Japanese players. The very first one was with Yaya. On his break at noon, he invited us for lunch and gave us a quick tour at the Tokyo World Trade Center with all the city views. During lunch we were talking about ST stuff. He started telling us the age and profession of many of the well known grandmasters. Not surprisingly, most of them are in their 40s now. He also told us that Yaya comes from his dog’s name who died around 10 years ago. Probably his closest friend in the community is Komoda and I think he said they are going to go together to the Shanghai ST tournament that Komoda goes every year.
By the way, Komoda is not retiring after X-Mania XVI as his team name ‘Komoda Final’ suggested. He is not as active as he used to be but he will keep playing. However, Sasori is planning to move from sf2 to sf5, tentatively. If that’s true, I still don’t understand why the team wasn’t called ‘Sasori final’ instead of ‘Komoda final’ which makes it very confusing.
This wasn’t my first time in Japan and in two of my previous trips I visited Gamespot Versus on Tuesdays, played the team tournament and went back to the hotel in the last train around midnight. Here comes my favorite part of this trip, one that shows how passionate about the game these guys are. I learned that around half of the players who go to the team tournament stay later to play until late. At first I thought they meant to stay until 1am or so but apparently they stay playing all freaking night until 6am. You must be wondering, aren’t these guys working the next day? Well, most of them are but they go as crazy as just taking a nap in the arcade at some point of the night and go to work few hours later. They do the same on the weekends when they do the NVC tournaments. Kawasim told me that their record is one time they stayed playing until 4pm of the following day.
AFO Blanka has to drive for two hours to get to GSV and sometimes he does it back and forth even if he gets there at 2am and play for a few hours only. Murasaki Vega sometimes uses the 8 hour bus to do the Osaka – Tokyo commute. TMF also comes from far without knowing where he will crash at night. And many other examples of the sacrifice many players do to play the game which is admirable.
We were a big group and it wasn’t easy to coordinate at times. The night that we stayed the longest at GSV was until 4.30am or so. Doors are closed after hours so we decided to bring onigiris for everyone to give away around 2am and also croissants that we gave around 4am. Japanese were happy with the treat.
All these details I explained are just from the few days before Tania, Eugene and Brendan arrived at the ST house. More details of the trip in the coming chapters. Before I finish though let me give you some essential pieces of advice in case you want to do a similar trip to Tokyo. You can ignore them if you are stubborn but you will come back to me saying I was right:
- Start saving money for the trip. If you like the game, the community and Japan then it’s really worth it
- You need a data plan for your phone even if you stay for 1 week. It will improve the quality of the trip tremendously both to move around and to communicate with your friends. If you can’t get a good international plan from your current carrier just buy a prepaid sim card in Japan (2700 yen for 1 Gb with ntt docomo)
- Try airbnb for your stay. It has always worked for me.
- Buy a pasmo/suica card for travelling. It’s a free card you can get at any station. You can put money in it so you just have to hover the card on the turnstile every time you take a train. Forget about buying a single ticket each time otherwise you are wasting the time of your friends waiting for you while you do it. Also, any money you don’t use in the card will be returned to you at the train station of the airport. There is also a small discount for each ride.
- If you are going to Japan mainly for the game (like I did) you might consider adding $200 to the budget to get a JR rail pass. This way you will be able to play with the ST grandmasters that are not from Tokyo, like Osaka and Nagoya. I didn’t do that and I am still regretting but I am not going to make the same mistake again.
- Don’t be shy with the Japanese. Every person is different and in my case I enjoy the social part of the community. I liked to see how Fuddulous did it when he went to Japan last year. If you made it this far you better get the full experience by just not being anti social. Language barrier is not an excuse. Most of the players there are super nice to you but you have to do the first step. Our best memories are from the times we hung out with them, exchanged gifts and helped each other. I had heard some comments from EVO that Noguchi was hard to socialize with. Because of that I didn’t try to talk to him in the first day I run into him at Hey. Luckily for me I did try on the second day and I realized how wrong those preconceptions were. He was not only super nice and helpful but he also became one of the closest friends I made in the trip.